Nenad Krstic, who followed up his Euroleague player of the month award for November with last week's player of the week honors, will try to lead CSKA Moscow (9-0) to the fifth 10-0 start in Euroleague history when they travel to Unicaja Malaga (4-5) for a game to be streamed on ESPN3 on Wednesday at 2 p.m. ET.
On Thursday at 2:45 p.m. ET, former NBA point guards Acie Law and Omar Cook will lead Partizan Belgrade (4-5) and EA7 Emporio Armani Milan (3-6), respectively, in a Group C contest that will determine which team advances into the next round of the Turkish Airlines Euroleague. The top four teams in each of the four, six-team groups will form the round of 16, with the draw to be held Dec. 28.
Unicaja Malaga vs. CSKA Moscow
Krstic, CSKA's leading scorer (15.8 points per game), contributed 18 points and 12 rebounds and drew eight fouls in a 91-75 victory over defending champion Panathinaikos last week. Andrei Kirilenko, the Euroleague's leading rebounder (9 per game), is listed as questionable with a shoulder injury and has not played since a scoreless, seven-minute outing in the Russian League (PTB) on Dec. 10.
Kirilenko has an escape clause in his CSKA contract that expires Jan. 9 and is weighing a return to the NBA (Nets? Kings?) with staying in his homeland. Joining Krstic in the starting lineup are four-year NBA forward Viktor Khryapa (8.8 ppg) and former Mississippi State star Jamont Gordon (7.1).
Coming off the bench are DePaul alum Sammy Mejia (6.8), a second-round choice of the Pistons in 2007, and Kansas alum Sasha Kaun (4.3). CSKA has clinched first place in Group B and is 20-2 over its three competitions this season. CSKA also has won 14 of its past 15 meetings with Unicaja.
Although only 4-5, Unicaja has already clinched a berth in the next round of the playoffs and can claim third place in Group B with a victory. The Spanish team has been powered by England's Joel Freeland (selected 30th in the 2006 draft by the Blazers). He is its leading scorer (12.8) and rebounder (7.3).
Also expected to start are Kentucky alumGerald Fitch (9.1 ppg), who played with the Heat in 2006-07, and Saint Mary's Earl "E.J." Rowland (8.6), whose game has picked up lately. Among the reserves are Jorge Garbajosa (6.9), a first-team, all-rookie choice with the Raptors in 2006-07, and Nedzad Sinanovic (4.4), a second-round choice of the Blazers in 2003.
Mark Payne, a recent UC Davis grad, has made two brief Euroleague appearances for Unicaja. Niagara's Tremmell Darden (8.6) will miss his third Euroleague game due to a broken finger and is expected to be sidelined for another five weeks. Unicaja's 9-3 record has it tied for third in the Spanish league (ACB).
Partizan Belgrade vs. EA7 Emporio Armani Milan
On the heels of Partizan's stunning, come-from-behind, 69-65 victory over EA7 Emporio Armani last month, the Italian team needs to win this game by four or more points to advance to the next round. Anything less, and Partizan moves on after it overcame a 15-point deficit with six minutes to play in the prior meeting.
The battle between Law (13.5 ppg, 3.3 assists per game) and Cook (7.1, 4.8) will be crucial. Partizan's best player has been Milan Macvan, the 54th player selected in the June draft by the Cavs. He leads the club in scoring (15.6) and rebounds (7.9, third in the Euroleague).
Nikola Pekovic, who averaged 15.4 points in seven Euroleague starts for Partizan, has returned to the Timberwolves. Partizan, which enjoys one of the most frenetic home-court advantages in the Euroleague, has won its past five meetings with Milan on its court and has qualified for the final 16 each of the past five years.
EA7 Emporio Armani will be without leading scorer Danilo Gallinari (16.4), who has returned to the Nuggets, and could be without Malik Hairston (13.4), a two-year member of the Spurs, who sat out the club's Italian league (SerieA) game over the weekend with an injured Achilles tendon but is expected to play.
Cook has nailed eight of his past 15 3-point tries and will be joined in the starting lineup by former Maryland standout Drew Nicholas (8). The presence of Princeton alum Mason Rocca (2.5) is one of the factors in EA7 Emporio Armani's edge in frontcourt depth, while UMass alum Jeffrey Vigiano has made three brief Euroleague appearances for the Italian team. EA7 Emporio Armani is tied for first in SerieA and is seeking its first round-of-16 appearance since 2008-09.